PR Defensive Playbook: When Crisis Strikes, Will You Be Ready?

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PR PlaybookFor most of us, the word “crisis” brings to mind something on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or September 11th. For businesses and the public relations professionals who advise them, a crisis can be anything from a disgruntled customer or former employee to a product recall, nasty blog post or negative publicity in a news story.

Keep in mind that the plan of action differs for each situation. For instance, a negative blog post might best be ignored altogether – a response might either draw too much attention to the issue or make your company look like it’s on the defensive. On the other hand, no response could be misinterpreted that your company has something to hide – the equivalent of “no comment.” So you’ve got to make a case-by-case call on how to handle each crisis.

What determines how well your business will weather the crisis is how well prepared you are. I know, it brings to mind the old Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.”

In fact, there’s a whole niche of professionals who specialize in crises – and in crisis communications. They’ll tell you the same thing: You’ve got to have a game plan.

We’re not exactly talking football, but we are saying you need both an offense and a defense. A good offense might actually prevent certain crisis situations from occurring in the first place, or at least diffuse the situation enough so that’s manageable.

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As you begin to develop your offensive strategy, you need key players on your team. Depending on the size of your organization, this could include top management, human relations staff, customer service representatives and legal counsel.

What roles do public relations and the media play in all this? Plenty.

If yours is a publicly held company, any news that could negatively impact its stock – and the actions of investors or potential investors – is a cause for concern. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission has strict guidelines that publicly held companies must follow regarding communication of its finances to shareholders and the public.

In the case of a product recall, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a certain protocol that must be followed for notifying the public. Not only should pertinent information (product name, model number, a telephone hotline number, for instance) be posted on the home page of the company’s website, but a media alert or advisory should be issued as well.

If yours is a major corporation, if the crisis is of a magnitude that affects public safety, or if the issue is of interest to the population at large, a news conference may be necessary. This is when it’s crucial to be on-target with your message.

A typical news conference consists of a prepared statement made by a company spokesperson, followed by a question-and-answer session with the media. Here’s where it really helps to be prepared; brainstorm in advance to come up with a list of probable questions you’ll need to field – along with appropriate answers.

Many crises, however, can be managed with a few personal calls to key people in the media, along with a well-crafted news release. As the crisis unfolds, the media will want updates and access to information as well as sources. That means you may need to issue several releases throughout the course of the crisis.

So when a crisis hits, it’s your choice. You can either be well prepared … or just stick your head in the sand and hope it will all go away.

This article, written by Darcy Silvers, originally appeared in PR Fuel (, a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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